An Encyclical on Racism That Almost Was

Interview with Anton Rauscher

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ROME, APR. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).- New historical findings on the period right before World War II reveal the Catholic Church´s categorical opposition to racism, especially anti-Semitism.



A new book is now on sale in Germany entitled "Against Racism" ("Wider den Rassismus," published by Schoningh Verlag), in which professor Anton Rauscher, director of the Katholische Socialwissenschaftliche Zentralstelle, institute of the German bishops´ conference), offers a number of previously unpublished documents.

The book begins in the summer of 1938 when, at the Pontiff´s request, Jesuit Fathers David Desbuquois, Gustav Gundlach and John LaFarge met in Paris for a very specific purpose: to write the draft of a document expressing Christian doctrine on the unity of mankind, and opposed to the racist ideologies of the time.

Each of the Jesuits wrote a 100-page document in his native language, one in French, one in English, and one in German, Rauscher said, who was a student of Father Gundlach. The texts differed from one another according to the positions of their authors.

In 1995, a book entitled "Pius XI´s Hidden Encyclical" appeared in French, signed by George Passelecq and Bernard Suchecky, and based on the French edition of Father LaFarge´s ideas. The book presented this draft as reflecting the Pope´s ideas for the encyclical.

However, the new volume "Against Racism" reveals that, of the three documents, the most consistent and influential as regards the Pope was the one written by German Father Gundlach (1892-1963), professor at the Gregorian University. The latter´s draft was the most forceful and favorable to the Jewish people.

The drafts were given to Pope Pius XI in January 1939 by Father Wlodimir Ledochowski, then superior general of the Society of Jesus.

The drafts were never shaped into an encyclical. The coming of war, coupled with the Pope´s deteriorating health, which began in mid-October 1938, put the drafts -- and a possible encyclical on racism -- on hold.

Today, however, those documents are being published. "In 1963, while analyzing Father Gundlach´s private archives, I found a sealed envelope on which was written ´Societatis Unio,´" Rauscher said in an exclusive interview with ZENIT. "It was the title he had proposed for the encyclical against racism. Finally, I was able to discover there what the draft was about."

Father Gundlach was one of the greatest experts on social doctrine of the 20th century. He was the first to use the term subsidiarity, a concept that appears in Pius XI´s encyclical "Quadragesimo Anno." Moreover, Father Gundlach had collaborated in writing "Mit Brennender Sorge," Pius XI´s encyclical against Nazism. He later became an important adviser to Pius XII on German affairs.

--ZENIT: Why didn´t "Societatis Unio" become an encyclical?

--Rauscher: It was not a complete text. Several parts needed further work. New studies were necessary. It wasn´t even clear which text should be used, the French or German version. Moreover, the political and social situation was becoming acute. In 1938 racist legislation was promulgated in Italy, and relations between the Vatican and the Fascist government were very tense.

The Vatican did not hesitate as regards the condemnation of racism. However, it was not clear if the publication of an encyclical would improve or worsen the situation. Following the publication of "Mit Brennender Sorge," the situation of Catholics and Jews in Germany worsened.

In November 1938, Father Gundlach wrote a letter to Father LaFarge to tell him that the Pope had so many health problems, that he could not decide on the publication of a document that would place the Church in a head-on collision with the Nazi-Fascists.

--ZENIT: Was Eugenio Pacelli, the Vatican secretary of state and future Pius XII, who was accused in a book of being "Hitler´s Pope," informed about all this?

--Rauscher: In a letter sent to Father LaFarge in April 1939 [just after Pius XII´s election], Father Gundlach says that Pacelli was informed about the project and the intention to publish it, but he had not been able to read it.

No sooner he was elected Pope, Pius XII concentrated all his energy on the effort to avoid a world conflict. Afterward, he used a great part of the "Societatis Unio" draft in the 1939 encyclical "Summi Pontificatus." Then, he also used this material in 1941, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum," and in other addresses and letters.

Father Gundlach was Pope Pacelli´s special adviser on social affairs, and Pius XII was the most radical opponent of the Nazi racial theses.

--ZENIT: Therefore, it isn´t a "hidden encyclical," as the book published in French stated, but rather a study that was later used by the Pontiffs.

--Rauscher: Exactly. I was very surprised that Passelecq´s and Suchecky´s book was published in German, as they translated the draft of the encyclical from French, despite the fact they knew Father Gundlach´s German text. I, myself, showed it to them once. I do not understand why they didn´t use Father Gundlach´s German original, which, among other things, was far more favorable to the Jewish people. Perhaps, this is precisely the reason.